Six Tips to Bridge Cultural Differences in Marketing Communication

Published on 28th May 2019

Your products and services are successful in your home country. There’s nothing stopping you to enter foreign markets. If it works here, your neighbors must love it too! But then results disappoint. What went wrong? Is the message not clear, did you forget something important or is your target group not feeling it? No worries. We’ve listed 6 tips to bridge cultural differences and create a successful marketing campaign. 

1. Look beyond language. You’ve got a great EDM ready to send out. It’s just a matter of translating.  Or not? Do you want to avoid unpleasant or embarrassing situations? Then it pays off to invest a little more time in getting to know your target group. Your message – even if the translation is flawless – might be misunderstood because of cultural differences. 

About storks and diapers. It happens to the best of us. Ask Proctor & Gamble. In the seventies they used an image of a stork and a baby for the introduction of Pampers in Japan. Great idea, one would think... Where it not for the fact that in Japan the stork has nothing to do with baby’s. Japanese parents just saw a strange combination and ignored the diapers.

 Avoid assumptions. Do you want to introduce your products or services into unknown territory? Then simply translating your email is not the right solution. Check if there’s market demand for your services. Avoid assumptions. Because your service is a hit in the Netherlands, doesn’t mean the German market is waiting for your initiative. For example: a license plate check to retrieve the damage history of second-hand cards might work well in the Netherlands, but not in countries where a license plate is linked to a person and the car. Or countries where the privacy law doesn’t disclose this information. 

2. Pay attention to the opening greeting. In the Netherlands it’s common to be on a fist name basis in communicating with both companies and consumers. But this is absolutely out of the question in Germany. There are two ways to say ‘you’ in German: ‘Sie’ (formal) and ‘du’ (informal). Always use ‘Sie.’ Moreover Germans seldom use first names when communicating with a business partner, even if they are followed by last names. Subsequently Germans use professional titles in their opening greeting. For example, if you’re writing an email to a CEO, you would say “Sehr geehrter Herr Direktor.”

3. Check Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. When it comes to navigating unknown territory, every country has its own norms and values. The Dutch organizational psychologist Geert Hofstede developed a model that maps out cultural differences based on 6 dimensions: power distance index, individualism vs collectivism, masculinity vs femininity, uncertainty avoidance index, long term orientation vs short term normative orientation and indulgence vs restraint. It’s an easy way to compare your culture against the culture of your target group. 

Just act normal, but not everywhere! 

When you check the Hofstede model, Northern European countries score high on individualism, but Southern Europe is strong on collectivism. Self-development is a great angle for a marketing campaign in Northern Europe, but not in Spain, which is considered a collectivist culture.  

The model also shows that Northern European countries have a strong feminine culture. In contrast to countries with a masculine culture they’re not easily impressed by celebrities and status. Just act normal. American campaigns packed with celebrities recommending the greatest thing ever will not work in feminine cultures. Introducing your product in a masculine culture? You can safely exaggerate it a bit.  

4. Use local channels. LinkedIn is THE network for business contacts and B2B marketing, but don’t forget local channels! Such as Xing, this European career-oriented social networking site is popular in German-speaking countries. 

Sending out an email campaign? Make sure your data comes from local sources. In this way your email list is fully compliant with local data protection laws and all opt-ins are correct. In Europe there are big differences in privacy laws when it comes to email marketing. Avoid a fine and go local!

5. Watch out with stereotypes!  As mentioned there are cultural differences between European countries. Germans are punctual, the French are chauvinistic and the Spanish love their siestas. Of course these are stereotypes. So don’t overdo it! The Germans are pretty proud of their punctual reputation, but the eternal siesta is a sensitive matter in Spain. Not every Frenchman wears a beret and striped shirt. 

6. Out of office. Before hitting the send button it’s not a bad idea to check the holidays in your country of choice. Many European countries celebrate Labour Day on 1 May. So this is not a great day to send out your campaign. Moreover most of France shuts down in August. Most French people take their summer vacations in August. Especially smaller companies are closed for the entire month. Want to reach out to SME’s? Wait until school starts!

Courtesy: BoldData

BoldData is specialized in international email marketing campaigns and European privacy laws. 


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